Procrastination: Where Does It Come From?

Let’s face it; we spend most of our adult lives working. We do this for decades, 5-7 days a week, 8 or more hours each day. Although there are very few people who dream of having nothing to do but relax all day, most people are well aware that working is an integral part of adulthood, we still seem to notice more and more procrastinators every day, and we may even discover that we love procrastinating. But where does this phenomenon come from, and why is it so appealing to people of all ages, from school children to older students and working adults? Why is it so appealing to prolong work that is inevitably going to be done?

What is procrastination?

As we already mentioned, in the broadest possible sense, procrastination refers to the practice of not doing the scheduled work on time, but rather postponing doing it, usually until the last minute. It is present in people all around the world, and even though the motivation behind it is slightly different, it is still a widespread phenomenon.

In addition, procrastination is not something that is exclusive to humans, as some species of animals, like pigeons, have also shown signs of procrastination in their daily search for food, which leads scientists to believe that there might be some evolutionary advantages to procrastinating.

What are the benefits of procrastination?

We are all well aware of the downsides of putting off our obligations for too long –if we are careless about it, we may risk putting ourselves in danger, both because of the consequences of our unfinished work, as well as from the stress that inevitably goes along with trying to do a lot of work in a very short period of time. However, procrastination can also prove very helpful in certain situations where a person is supposed to stay calm and avoid acting prematurely; for example, in situations where the task at hand largely depends on the influx of new information. In such cases, it is wise to wait until more information has arrived, upon which the person can base their decisions and actions. One famous example of the benefits of procrastination is when it helped avoid a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis; thanks to the instinct to delay the attack and await further orders, a Soviet officer prevented a potential catastrophe.

What is our motivation for procrastinating?

It seems that, although it has numerous benefits, procrastination has far simpler roots. Many psychologists have discussed this, and it seems that the principle of pleasure that our brain operates on, is responsible for procrastination.

To put it simply, we always tend to put aside difficult tasks, ones that would require too much energy or focus, as well as ones that might cause us stress in the process. In the core of all these tasks, psychologists claim, is underlying anxiety, which is the most obvious cause for delaying work. A point could be made that we have evolved to use this mechanism to avoid stressful conditions and situations, which might leave negative consequences on our physical and mental health.

So is it okay to take it easy?

Although we praise punctuality and respect people who perform their tasks on time, even if we ourselves fail to do so, procrastination is completely normal and present in all people, even those with a high degree of self-discipline. In that aspect, it is of no concern. However, people should be careful and avoid excessive procrastination, for even if it allows us to be happy in the face of an arduous task, it may only mask the work that lies ahead, and only aggravate the stress that we experience doing it.